Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told radio host Hugh Hewitt Monday that President Donald Trump’s controversial airstrikes on Syrian government targets last week were a “missed opportunity” and that he would have liked to see more robust American intervention.
“Missed opportunity. Didn’t lay a glove on Assad’s capabilities to wage war,” Graham told Hewitt when asked for his assessment. “[T]he military strike itself was a tactical response well short of what I thought was justified.”
Graham slammed the administration’s defense leadership, particularly Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, for its refusal to adopt a no-fly zone over conflict areas and allowing the Iranian-Russian-Syrian alliance to prevail as the Islamic State (ISIS) is driven into extinction:
[H]ere’s my problem with the Pentagon, with Mattis and Dunford. They have resisted for years a no-fly, no-drive zone to check Iran and Russia expansion. They don’t want a big power conflict. And basically, Syria is now in the hands of the Russians, the Iranians, and [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad. There’s no credible force left. So I’m very disappointed in the Pentagon. And I, get new generals. Get new generals who understand that giving Syria to the Iranians is a nightmare for us in the region.
Later, Graham offered his own vision of future American involvement in Syria. Addressing President Trump, he said:
I’m not asking you to invade Syria. I’m asking you to stick it out, to make sure ISIS doesn’t come back, create no-fly zones inside of Syria so that the people there can regroup, go to Geneva and get a peace agreement after Assad feels some military pressure. Train up some Syrians to go after him. Tell the Russians and the Iranians if you cross these lines, we’ll shoot you down. But we’re on course now to leave Syria and turn the place over to the Iranians and Russia, and that is a nightmare for Syria and the entire region.
The limited American intervention, according to Graham, will cause serious problems for American regional allies. “Our military position regarding Russia and Iran is to give Syria to them,” he said. “That’s a nightmare for Israel. That’ll be a nightmare for Lebanon and Jordan.”
Graham explained he feared a larger war would be sparked when Israel intervenes to prevent the flow of Iranian weapons to its allies in Lebanon, including terror group Hezbollah. “[T]he real fight to come is when Israel has to go deeper into Syria more often to stop the weapon flows from Syria down to Lebanon. The spark that will start the war is going to come from South Lebanon,” he said.
Graham’s support for greater military action has created tension between him and the president, against whom he briefly ran for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, since the beginning of this administration. As Trump has taken a more interventionist tack in the Middle East, Graham has praised the president, calling him, for example, “one hell of a good commander-in-chief” last month.
The South Carolina senator, however, has been consistent in his calls for greater American intervention in the now seven-year-old Syrian Civil War, raising similar concerns as he did with Hewitt over the future of the region and the security of Israel absent the American military adopting a broader “anti-Iran” strategy.